M u s e u m  C r e a t e d  L e s s o n

Gold in Culture


Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Glimpsing Gold—Different Places, Different Times

Choose any country. Gold has had—and often still has—an impact on aspects of the culture. The following five examples offer a glimpse into some of the ways gold affects people.

India:  Where Gold Equals Good Fortune
India is the largest consumer of gold today, a clear reflection of the important role that gold plays in Indian society. There is the dowry, where gold is the measure of value a woman brings to the marriage, and there are the rituals, which extend throughout a person’s life.

For example, when a baby is born in the Indian state of Kerala, a grandmother rubs a gold coin in honey and places a drop of the liquid on the baby’s tongue for good luck. At the age of three, a learned relative takes a gold coin and uses it to trace words on the child’s tongue. This, it is believed, will bestow the gift of eloquence.

The Sun on Earth: African Gold
The Asante nation is just one example of gold’s importance in Africa. The Ashanti people believe that gold is the sun’s earthly counterpart, representing life’s vital force.

In this country that is now Ghana, the Ashanti people tell the story of a golden stool that descended from heaven, landing on the lap of the first Asante king. This stool is believed to actually contain all the spirits of the Asante nation, living, dead, and yet to be born, and is still treasured in rituals.

Gold of the Inca
The Inca in South America, who called gold “the sweat of the gods,” are famed for the amount of this precious metal they amassed. Their capital, Cuzco, had a temple with a garden containing golden life-sized plants, animals, men and women. The desire to possess this gold fueled the Spanish conquest of the Incas in the 1500s, when King Ferdinand of Spain ordered, “Get Gold!” The Incas, unsuccessfully, tried to save their king with a ransom of gold—filling an entire room. The Spanish melted most of this treasure down—and killed the Incan king.

The pre-Columbian Huetar of Costa Rica panned for gold in rivers, using large leaves and calabash gourds.  In Costa Rica too, it was the elite who wore gold, and gold was buried with them.

The Mi’kmaq called gold wisosooleawa, meaning brown silver. In the history of Nova Scotia’s gold rush, there are many stories of Mi’kmaq guides who took hunters out looking for game—and instead came across gold. There is no evidence of them mining gold themselves before that time.
Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Dian Day, Susan Sellers, Rita Wilson

Nova Scotia, CANADA

© 2013, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. All Rights Reserved.
Learning Object Collection: Gold in Nova Scotia
Learning Object: Golden Culture—A Rich and Complex Story
Institution: Art Gallery of Nova Scotia